The undeniable success of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez must have been especially aggravating to the world’s oldest billionaire, David Rockefeller, who died in his sleep last week at 101.
The Rockefellers and their Standard Oil essentially ran Venezuela for decades, deciding on not just US ambassadors but Venezuela’s national policies. Until 1951 Standard Oil’s Venezuela branch was the world’s number one oil producer.
But instead of doing what oil normally does – create a small tribe of rich sheiks and Rockefellers – Chavez did the opposite: his Communist-inspired policies produced the most equal distribution of income in the region, and dropped extreme poverty from 23% to 8%. I could go on and on with such facts, but it was all thanks to the repudiation of neoliberal capitalism so currently (un)popular in Europe.
Chavez’s success was also a direct repudiation of the Rockefeller family’s “enlightened capitalist” doctrine. David, in particular, was a leading preacher of globalization, the system which funnels profits back to the New York Rockefellers and not to the poor natives.
And yet when Rockefeller died the lead descriptor in The New York Times’ obituary/hagiography was “philanthropist”. When Chavez died they described him as a strutting “strongman” and “caudillo”.
How much did Rockefeller really give?
David Rockefeller’s foundation is alleged to have given over $530 million to charity (no word on how much this was offset by personal tax breaks for Rockefeller); his final worth was alleged to have been $3.3 billion (no word on how much he held in tax havens).
That left him with a cool $2.77 billion to play with. Rockefeller certainly did not, “give until it hurts”.
We all know, whether you admit it or not, that Chavismo was more effective, more efficient and thoroughly debunked the billionaire’s model of “enlightened capitalism”.
But what’s more important is to remember that so-called “enlightened capitalism” is still a trap being set for you, me and the average person.
The forced ‘enlightenment’ of the Average Joe
Why aren’t you driving an electric car yet?! Not even a hybrid?
Do you really buy that brand of coffee?! Don’t you know their environmental record?
You know that by supporting Apple you are keeping Chinese workers in hovels, right?
“Enlightened” or “conscious capitalism” is a term and a trend which doesn’t mean what it should. What it should mean in 2017 is: “I am conscious that capitalism brutally and repeatedly creates inequality, and therefore I support communism.”
Instead what it means is that, with enough cajoling, we can get corporations to become good citizens, and if we’d just be smarter shoppers, we’d put the bad businessmen out of business.
So the heart of the movement is its view of a corporation’s role, and its view of the consumer’s role.
Because America is a country whose historical and mythical structures are based on the virtues of commerce, there is a uniquely American belief that businessmen are essentially good.
Most people reject this nonsense out of hand for obvious reasons, and not just the Pink Wave countries of Latin America. In Confucian China merchants were the lowest level in the social hierarchy. They had money and thus influence, of course, but their social standing corresponded to the fact that they are fundamentally the exploiters of other peoples’ creations.
But the “conscious capitalism” movement is a rare case where American exceptionalism which is actually true.
Trying to humanize “superhuman” corporations
American corporations have all the rights of citizens, but none of the responsibilities.
Now if I spill a bunch of toxic chemicals anywhere, including my own private property, I go to jail. If I don’t pay my debts, there is no taxpayer bailout. You see the difference between me and corporations? So the first step is not to make corporations better citizens, but to roll back the “super-citizen” status that corporations currently enjoy.
That would be a huge step, and this is what “conscious capitalism” basically aspires to: persuading corporations to follow the damn laws of a democracy, just as we regular citizens have to.
The problem is that corporations will never embrace the laws of democracy. History proves that they systematically avoid, buy off, rewrite or break the laws written by humans.
What’s more, thanks to globalization, corporations can simply ride out any legal challenges as they pick up stakes and move to a place which isn’t going to raise such a bother about acting responsibility.
Of course, corporations are not only not “superhuman” they are not even human: They are tools which should be manipulated to serve all humans, and absolutely nothing else.
This idea, so clear in communism, is totally absent from “conscious capitalism”, which only wishes for a better master, and not to make the average person the master.
What is the only role of corporations in “conscious capitalism”? It is to listen…and perhaps change their deadly, abusive habits.
Man…talk about the “soft sell” sales technique! Let’s head down to the local prison and use the same approach with other unrepentant lawbreakers, eh?
You are to blame for sweatshop fires and farmers switching to cocaine
So if corporations lay back and are feted like kings as we plead for mercy on our societies, land and health, then everything necessarily falls on the other part of this relationship: the consumer.
The role of the consumer in this “conscious capitalism” philosophy is appalling not in its brutality, but in its infinite endlessness. The philosophy posits that, instead of shifting from capitalism to communism, we all just need to be “ethical consumers”.
If corporations act badly and we still support them, then it is our fault. The only choice, apparently, is for us consumers to do all the work and make all the changes.
We have to endlessly research the practices, inner workings and production methods for any product we want to buy. If they aren’t sustainable, environmentally-friendly, worker-friendly, gender-friendly, animal-friendly or whatever, then we…put that one particular product back on the shelf, and repeat the process with an extremely similar product from a different corporation.
And we repeat ad nauseum.
Inherent in this idea is that only a few corporations are truly evil, and that all we have to do is avoid them. I have read that Nike regularly abuses human rights, but do you believe that Adidas, Reebok, Converse, Puma, Under Armour, Jordan, Asics, Vans and New Balance are all paragons of civic virtue?
Being a “conscious consumer” is great for capitalism because it makes the average person even more committed to upholding the capitalist model. It makes their life revolve even more around materialism, purchasing and objects. It allows people to feel virtuous by shopping, and it encourages them to define themselves by the products they buy to an even greater degree than American society already does.
“Just be willing to pay more to the right companies,” is another tenet of this supposedly revolutionary philosophy. The idea is that we should sacrifice our wages in order to pay the higher prices of the “right” companies.
This is…something only upper-middle class people would think is a sustainable idea.
I, and almost everyone else, simply do not make enough money so that I can spend extra with every single purchase. Asking an average family of 4 to do this – with all their expenses today and looming in the future – is to ask them to go further into debt than they probably already are.
Buying free-trade chocolate or whatever is a great idea, but how many years will it take (or will it be decades) before the non-free trade chocolatiers are put out of business by the ethical companies? Can I even hope that in just in one commodity – say, chocolate – those farmers and those certain regions which produce chocolate are going to get their just desserts…sometime before I die?
Our best and brightest – the enlightened stockholder & CEO
“Socially responsible stockholders” are another part of “enlightened capitalism”. The idea is that small groups of “socially responsible stockholders” can and will overcome the rabid capitalists who are committed to profits and thus stop corporate deviance.
What’s more, this idea believes they can produce the immediate change required to help those in poverty today, and to help a planet affected by global warming.
I would love to see any sort of study – though I’m sure none exist – which shows the success rate of “socially responsible stockholder efforts”.
What I’m certain of is that both capitalists and fake-leftist activists are more than willing to endlessly promote a few anecdotal examples in order to convince people that this represents an effective, repeatable plan, instead of just a few outliers.
Do not believe that this is somehow a pro-democratic practice simply because there is voting involved. It’s no more “democratic” then when only the landed gentry could vote, or only men, or only whites, etc. “Socially responsible stockholding” is also inherently elitist because you have to be rich enough to own stock in the first place.
Of course, “socially responsible stockholding” can do no good in private companies.
Cargill can maintain their truly nefarious practices to dominate third-world farming, good luck getting the Koch brothers of Koch Industries to start being progressive and I highly doubt building giant Bechtel is going to stop building extravagantly wasteful nonsense for Saudi princes.
The best of the best are, of course and still, our godly CEOs.
The entire concept of “conscious capitalism” when applied to private companies is essentially reduced to the idea – so prevalent in fascism and so absent from so many forms of non-Stalinist communism – that only the “great” should be leading society. This is the opposite of democracy.
Our role, as “enlightened consumers” is simply to beg and plead the heads of big business, who are our “enlightened despots”.
This has not worked out very well.
‘Conscious capitalism’ has long been tried…it failed
Rockefeller, despite his alleged philanthropy, retained his billions and applied his bogus theories for more than a century. His grandfather – often called the richest man in history – was also a proponent of “enlightened capitalism”, so this concept is not at all new.
And yet the standards of living in the Third World are no better today than in the late 19th century. $2.50 per day – the wages of half the world – earned in an Indonesian sweatshop does not, contrary to popular belief, go a long way over there. For the brutally oppressed workers it comes down to the choice of food or soap, or food and heat.
Such standards are no better than when Western Europeans began taking the silver from Peru. The “conscious capitalist” movement is basically untouched by modernity: this is a 16th century idea with a moralist bent, and no more.
Prod the idea of “enlightened capitalism” and you get not just the status quo, but no future as well.
For those good-hearted activists committed to “conscious capitalism”, I suggest you stop capitulating. You are like the victim who keeps going back to their abuser, thinking their love is enough to change them.
I will give no applause to Amnesty International’s Business and Human Rights program, which actually sent Valentine’s Day cards to CEOs who asked them to “have a heart for human rights”. What nonsense that such a campaign could be an effective way to win human rights! It sounds like it was thought up by an 11-year old girl from the suburbs!
Working within the capitalist system is never going to work out. Ending the capitalist system, however, is guaranteed to provide the opportunities for the fundamental changes which are needed, and needed now. There is no “enlightened capitalism” on a corporate scale.
You would do much better – for absolutely everybody living today and in the future – to embrace modernity and demand the fundamental shift from capitalism to communism.
For anyone truly paying attention, there truly is no alternative.
Ramin Mazaheri is the chief correspondent in Paris for Press TV and has lived in France since 2009. He has been a daily newspaper reporter in the US, and has reported from Cuba, Egypt, Tunisia, South Korea and elsewhere. His work has appeared in various journals, magazines and websites, as well as on radio and television.